Newsweek helpfully points out that CBS bumped a story in order to run with the Bush Guard documents on 60 Minutes… and it’s an ironic doozy.
The Bush supporters who are crowing about how CBS was taken in by forged documents would be well to keep their mouths shut, because the White House was taken in by some much more important forged documents not too long ago: remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction?
In its rush to air its now discredited story about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service, CBS bumped another sensitive piece slated for the same “60 Minutes” broadcast: a half-hour segment about how the U.S. government was snookered by forged documents purporting to show Iraqi efforts to purchase uranium from Niger.
The journalistic juggling at CBS provides an ironic counterpoint to the furor over apparently bogus documents involving Bush’s National Guard service. One unexpected consequence of the network’s decision was to wipe out a chance—at least for the moment—for greater public scrutiny of a more consequential forgery that played a role in building the Bush administration’s case to invade Iraq.
A team of “60 Minutes” correspondents and consulting reporters spent more than six months investigating the Niger uranium documents fraud, CBS sources tell NEWSWEEK. The group landed the first ever on-camera interview with Elisabetta Burba, the Italian journalist who first obtained the phony documents, as well as her elusive source, Rocco Martino, a mysterious Roman businessman with longstanding ties to European intelligence agencies.
Although the edited piece never ended up identifying Martino by name, the story, narrated by “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley, asked tough questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the questionable uranium purchase in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech.
But just hours before the piece was set to air on the evening of Sept. 8, the reporters and producers on the CBS team were stunned to learn the story was being scrapped to make room for a seemingly sensational story about new documents showing that Bush ignored a direct order to take a flight physical while serving in the National Guard more than 30 years ago.